Fast Is the New Right?

Or is it just the old wrong? I am reminded of words that I heard countless times when growing up: “Don’t jump to conclusions.” This is the negative way of phrasing another statement with which I was also quite familiar: “Show your work.”

Guessing, jumping to conclusions, supposing– these are all ways of getting somewhere by taking shortcuts. Sometimes, shortcuts work. Sometimes (nay, oftentimes) they do not. Malcom Gladwell, in his book Blink, looks at how humans make quick decisions. In part, he notes that while we may seem to make instant decisions, we’ve often collected much of the data we needed before that point–and our brains are just now putting it all together.

Here is the rub. We often collect wrong data (or fail to collect data) before those instant decisions. And, while some of us are pretty adept at making instant decisions, I would postulate that most of us get them wrong most of the time. Taking myself as an example, I arrive at quick decisions scores, if not hundreds, of times a day. Some of them are empirically right, others are not. This is where my exercise becomes interesting. Most of my incorrect decisions do not have immediate negative repercussions. If I believe, based on something my daughter said, that she does not wish to have fish for dinner, my decision to have something other than fish for that meal hurts little when it turns out that she actually did want fish. So, in the vernacular “no biggie.” Right?

My point is that I tend to congratulate myself for the decisions I get right–as borne out by events–and downplay those decisions I get wrong. After all, I say to myself, I am only human. And you agree. Perhaps. (Then again, I should not be so bold as to know how you might handle things.)

But what does it mean when I suppose or jump to conclusions and people, property, reputations are damaged as a result? My tendency is still there to let myself off the hook–since, after all, I get things right most of the time (in my dreams). Unfortunately, there is little personal pain associated with getting things wrong most of the time.

What does this have to do with being fast, you ask? We are a culture which prides itself on speed. We invented fast food. We invented drive-through banking. We invented overnight package delivery. The list grows long with all the things which we have invented and implemented to do things faster and faster. The internet is an ever-present reminder that it is something we invented to communicate information more rapidly and to more people than ever before.

The problem with all of this? We have made getting something done quickly more important, in many ways, than getting it right. Remember the old saying: “might makes right”? Perhaps it should be changed to “speed makes right.” I know, I know–it doesn’t have the catchy alliteration. But it may be a better reflections of where we are today as a culture.

When it comes to news, we seem to find value in the speediest narrative. Whoever defines the narrative (whoever gets there first, that is) establishes the baseline. Defining the narrative is seen as much more important than getting it right. Of course, from a post-modern perspective, the narrative is correct because we created it–but that is also a direction we cannot go right now.

Bottom line? If the burger joint salts my fries when I asked for unsalted fries, speed didn’t work. If my credit union credits my deposit to someone else’s account, speed didn’t work. If the package I sent to North Carolina goes to South Carolina,  speed didn’t work. If a factually wrong article is published to the internet and read by millions of people before it is corrected (or it is never corrected), then speed didn’t work.

Those of us who still believe in and value truth must be interested in getting it right. If that means we need to slow down a bit, then we should do it. As much as we are able, we should be showing our work. When something is based on facts, we need to lay out the facts. When something is simply our opinion, we need to make that clear. This does not mean we wait until absolutely everything is known before proceeding–but it does mean we are very careful about assuming and supposing things just because they fit the narrative which is attractive to us.

One more thing. When we don’t get it right–and the facts run over us–we need to quash that tendency to let ourselves off. We are human, but that’s no excuse for not striving.